Half an hour later she got a text.
Spence: I hope you know what you’re doing.
Elle: I do know what I’m doing. I’m working for you.
Spence: Are you always such a smartass?
Elle: No, sometimes I’m sleeping.
Archer and some of his guys went to the pub for lunch. He’d been told by his doctor to stay home but the hell with that. He needed the distraction of work. For years he’d so carefully squelched his desire for Elle. Or at least pretended to squelch it, but suddenly, or not so suddenly at all, he was losing the battle, miserably. He’d actually thought he could keep his hands off her, never mind her mouth, but he’d failed at that too.
When Caleb showed up at their table, Archer nodded and gestured to their platter of hot wings and fries. “There’s plenty.”
“Thanks but I’m not staying.” Caleb was as smart as Spence, meaning that he was smarter than anyone in the entire place, but unlike Spence who could be equally comfortable walking a dog or designing a drone or addressing an entire board of directors, Caleb didn’t seem comfortable at all. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m taking Elle out tonight.”
The chatter at the table came to a complete and abrupt stop.
Caleb never took his gaze off Archer. “Just wanted you to know.”
“Why?” Archer asked.
Something crossed Caleb’s face at that. “I guess because if our situations were reversed, I’d want to know. Anyway, have a good lunch.”
And then he was gone.
“If Caleb gets to go out with her, I can too, right?” Joe asked.
“No,” Archer said.
Trev grabbed a chicken wing and stuffed it in Joe’s mouth. “You’re welcome,” he muttered under his breath, and if there was more conversation, Archer didn’t hear it over the heavy thudding of his heartbeat in his ears.
On the one hand, he was proud of Elle for actively seeking out the life she wanted and certainly deserved. On the other hand, watching her go get it sliced right through him in a way that made breathing nearly impossible and hurt more than being stabbed.
Caleb came for Elle after work. They walked the Embarcadero, something she hadn’t done in a long time. It was fun. And okay, maybe some of that sense of adventure and excitement came from the fact that she knew Caleb was active on several different dating sites—which meant that she wouldn’t be able to break his heart.
“Have to admit,” he said as they walked along the water toward Fisherman’s Wharf, winding in and out amongst a good-sized crowd, “I was surprised when you agreed to come out with me tonight.”
“And I was surprised you had room in your busy social schedule.”
He laughed, not insulted. “You can’t believe everything you hear.”
She cocked her head. “So what percentage of what I hear would you say I should believe?”
He flashed an easy grin. “Fifty. Sixty tops.”
When they got to Pier 39, they stood in the west marina under a setting sun and watched the sea lions doze on the docks. “Sure has been nice having you around ever since Archer got Spence to hire you as building manager last year,” Caleb said.
Elle took her eyes off the water and stared at him. “What?”
Caleb smiled. “Yeah, we all like having you around. You soften the boss up—not that he’d ever admit it.”
It was difficult to speak evenly with the blood rushing through her ears. “I got my job through a headhunter,” she said with what she felt was remarkable restraint. “Not Archer.”
“Uh . . .” Caleb finally clued in and read her expression. Whatever he saw in her face clearly tipped him off to the fact that he’d screwed up in a very large way because he swallowed hard and backed up a step. “How about some food, yeah? We could get—”
“Caleb, what did Archer have to do with me getting the job?”
“I don’t know.”
“Christ, Elle,” he said, shoving his fingers through his hair, looking pained. “Can we please forget that I said anything? I overheard Spence and Archer talking about it once a long time ago and I was just looking to make conversation with the hot chick instead of staring at you like a dumbass.”
She did her best to let it go but failed utterly. Because here was the thing. Spence owned the Pacific Pier Building. Spence and Archer were very close friends. It didn’t take her nearly complete accounting degree to do the math here. Somehow Archer had known she needed work and he’d had Spence hire her—for the job she’d so carefully sought out, the one she’d assumed she’d gotten on her own.
Caleb was tense now and she did feel bad about that because it wasn’t his fault. Archer was a dead man walking. She laid a hand on his arm and his muscles jerked.
He laughed in soft apology. “You know,” he said, “I thought I wanted you to touch me. I thought that a whole helluva lot. But right now I’m just scared.” He turned to face her. “I shouldn’t have said that about your job. It was thoughtless.”
“You said it because you thought I knew,” she said, capable of placing blame where it was due, and that wasn’t on him. “Not your fault, Caleb.”
Not looking like he felt any better about it, he nodded. And then his phone went off with a text.
“Shit,” he said, reading it. “This wasn’t supposed to happen but I’ve got some work stuff going on with Spence and he needs me.”
“It’s okay,” Elle said, sensing a rat. A very cute, sexy geeky rat in glasses named Spence.
“I’m sorry,” Caleb said with genuine regret. “Let me drive you home.”
She glanced over his shoulder and felt her back teeth grind together. “No, it’s okay. I’m going to stay. Don’t worry about me, Caleb. I have a feeling something’s going to come up for me too.”
Like committing murder . . .
Caleb pulled her in for a quick hug and a kiss on her cheek. “Rain check,” he said.
She smiled and watched him walk away before turning to Archer, standing on the other side of the pier.
He pushed off the beam he’d been lazily leaning against and walked toward her.
“Two for two,” she said. “You know, if you’re not careful, I’m going to think you’re into me.”